News bites, January 2009

This article was originally published in January 2009

Washington state organic survey

A survey of certified organic producers in Washington state reveals that economic factors are the primary reason they’re farming organically. Conducted by Washington State University, the survey also shows that organic farmers feel they’re contributing more to environmental and social sustainability than economic sustainability. Approximately 80,000 acres in Washington are certified organic with organic farmgate sales exceeding $144 million this year. (Washington State University)

New NOSB chair

Jeff Moyer, farm director of the Rodale Institute, has been elected as the 2009 chair of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is the U.S. organic community’s volunteer advisory body to the National Organic Program, which sets USDA organic policy as part of the Agricultural Marketing Service. Moyer says it’s a critical time for the organic movement “as forces try to dilute its hard-fought integrity with marketing terms such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘natural.” (Rodale Institute)

EU allows deviant fruits and vegetables

European Union nations have deregulated curved cucumbers, forked carrots and other irregularly shaped fruits and vegetables, allowing them to be sold in markets. The EU’s agricultural commissioner says it makes no sense to throw perfectly good food away just because it’s the “wrong” shape.

Twenty-six fruits and vegetables were delisted from the regulation but 10 others — including lettuce, apples, citrus fruits, peaches, nectarines, sweet peppers, grapes and tomatoes — still are subject to shape standards. (Agence France Presse)

California town banning big-box grocers?

Lawmakers in Ventura, Calif., are considering a proposal to block new big-box grocery stores from opening in the city. The initiative would prohibit stores larger than 90,000 square feet but would exempt membership stores, such as Costco. (Ventura County Star Calif.)

GM corn affects reproduction in mice

A study at the University of Vienna has found negative effects on reproduction in mice eating genetically modified (GM) corn. Dr. Jürgen Zentek found that more mice eating GM corn had no litters or fewer offspring after the third or fourth litters than mice eating conventional corn. The differences are reported to be statistically significant.

The corn used in the feeding study (Monsanto’s NK603 x MON810) has been approved for human consumption in the United States, Argentina, Japan, Philippines and South Africa. Monsanto reportedly declined to cooperate with researchers, apparently to block the study. (Ecological Farming Association/Third World Network)

Stevia a legal sweetener?

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola reportedly want to use stevia as a sweetener for zero-calorie products and analysts say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may help that along. Stevia is derived from a South American shrub and currently is allowed on the U.S. market only as a dietary supplement, not a sweetener.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has raised concerns about potential cancer-causing properties in stevia and is urging more tests before approval. Stevia sweeteners are banned in much of Europe, although Japan and Australia have approved it. (United Press International)

GM papaya

More than 12,000 scientists, businesses, farmers, beekeepers and others opposed commercialization of GM papaya during a public comment period to the USDA. Only 17 people submitted statements supporting GM papaya.

GM papaya is more resistant to the Ringspot virus but it’s more vulnerable to the Blackspot fungus, encouraging more toxic fungicides. Critics say federal regulators also did not require or review data on questions about genetic similarities to a known allergen, and traits encoding resistance to antibiotics commonly used in human medicine. The USDA has yet to publish final regulations. (Ecological Farming Association)

Pet health

Research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that dogs and cats carry toxic industrial chemicals in their bodies at even higher levels than found in humans. EWG in turn has launched Pets for the Environment, a twice-a-month electronic newsletter with tips on pet health, food and products. It will help you read pet food labels, and learn how to maintain bedding or treated wood decks, and whether carpet treatments or nonstick pans may hurt your pets. (

High blood pressure and potassium

Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center shows that consuming too little dietary potassium is linked more closely to high blood pressure than sodium. Potassium-rich foods include chard, yams, squash, lima and pinto beans, avocado and papaya. (HealthDay News)

Correction to “Who owns the seed supply?”

A January Sound Consumer Newsbite (in the printed paper) stated incorrectly that certain seed companies are owned by Monsanto or a subsidiary, Seminis. In fact, none of the companies that were named are owned by Monsanto or Seminis, although they may source seeds from Seminis.

The editor greatly regrets this error and extends her apology to Territorial Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, Park Seed, Burpee, Cook’s Garden, Spring Hill Nurseries, Flower of the Month Club, and Audubon Workshop.

She also has written, hoping it will post an alert about this inaccurate information, which continues to spread through the Internet

Also in this issue

Shopping and eating on a budget

No doubt the financial meltdown is causing us to rethink spending on even the most basic necessities — and food is no exception. Some people are choosing more economical meats (indeed, sales of Spam are skyrocketing), while others are eating out less frequently; 45 percent of Americans report cutting down on the number of meals they ate out in 2008.

The first farm: January harvest and a forecast

The New Year on the Dungeness Delta brings Brussels sprouts, kale and super-sweet carrots to our tables — as well as gratitude for such bounty to our hearts and busy hands. While many other farms wound down a while ago for winter, our crew at Nash’s Organic Produce is digging deep into a cold, wet harvest season.

Getting your fruits and vegetables:

How many times did you hear "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" while growing up? It's true. Increasing scientific evidence shows the preventive health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables — lots of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps we should start saying 10 apples a day keeps the doctor away.